Observation and Inference Activity

Observation and Inference Activity


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  • expression écrite
A test of your observation skills… Contributions by D. Padilla, D. Johnson, & E. Marconi For more optical illusions go to:
  • pickup truck
  • optical illusions
  • e. marconi
  • sides of the road
  • laboratory exercises
  • lab report
  • observations
  • prior knowledge



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Language English
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Sweet Finish

A slightly silly, somewhat sweet holiday story.

Barbara Caridad Ferrer

© Barbara Caridad Ferrer 2011SWEET FINISH 1


"Mila, what the hell is that?"
I didn't bother looking up as I carefully slid the flan onto the cake layer. Even thought
about not replying, because trying to get a somewhat fragile layer of custard centered on a layer
of light, spongy, liquid-soaked cake took some concentrating. You'd think Adam would've
known better than to just barge into my kitchen without warning, but he was sounding peevish
and I really didn't need a fight today, so I went ahead and answered, deliberately keeping my
voice mild. "Knock, knock and hola, que tal, to you too."
It worked. In that one word he already sounded less with the peeved and more sheepish.
"I called a couple times, but you didn't pick up."
"Had my hands full with piroulines, couldn't answer." I tilted my head towards the rolled
wafer cookies cooling on racks. "And if I wasn't answering, why'd you come over anyway?"
"Because you're supposed to be on your first vacation in four years and not working. I
was hoping you weren't answering because you were out relaxing by the pool or maybe—" He
paused in blatantly faux surprise, as if the idea had just occurred to him. "Doing something as
revolutionary as taking a nap. But since this is you we're talking about—."
Peevish to sheepish to accusatory in 3.2 seconds. Mood Swing Adam strikes again.
Fabulous. SWEET FINISH 2
"Sitting by a pool is boring and pointless. And I am relaxing." Grabbing two narrow
spatulas, I carefully slid them underneath the flan and edged it over about an eighth of an inch.
There. That was better. I looked up in time to find Adam leaning against the counter, crunching
into one of the piroulines.
"Hey—only a couple. I need those."
Ignoring me and reaching for more of the rolled wafers, he grumbled, not quite sotto
voce, "You're cooking."
Boy, just full of the genius observations today, wasn't he?
"Yes, Adam, how very astute of you. I'm cooking. Which relaxes me." I slid a second
smaller flan into place on top of the first one, carefully pouring the residual caramel sauce over
the top and allowing it to dribble down the sides of both flans and onto the cake.
"Cooking easy, comfort foods relaxes you—same as me," he pointed out. "What you're
working on is a, pastry and b, doesn't look easy, which means you're doing something for work,
which is counterintuitive to that whole relaxing thing you're supposed to be doing. On your
Bastard. The temptation to knock that smug, bossy expression off that pretty face
would've been close to overwhelming if I didn't recognize the healthy dose of worry lurking in
those dark green eyes.
"It's been four years, Mila," he repeated. And I knew, because I knew Adam, that he was
holding back from mentioning that the reason for my vacation four years ago hadn't been so
much vacation as getting away for a few days so my ex could move his things from the condo
and file for divorce. Not so much with the relaxing, that little break had been. SWEET FINISH 3
"Adam, I know, but de verdad, I just wanted to give this another test run before I have to
make it for a job. After my vacation," I added as I saw his dark brows starting to draw into a
heavy line again.
Shaking his head, he blew out a long breath. "God help me, one of these days, Mila—"
"You've been saying that for how many years now?"
"Too many," he grumbled. "Okay, so digame. What are you creating?"
"Custom wedding cake. We're catering a New Year's Eve wedding and the celebrants
wanted a cake that 'reflects the season, is culturally significant, and totally us.'" I finished my
recitation in a deliberately earnest singsong, choking back a laugh as his mouth opened, then
closed, then opened again.
"I know I'm gonna be sorry for asking, but what?"
Taking the bowl of ganache from where it had been resting on the counter, I fitted it into
the mixer and started it running at a low speed, whipping it into a mousse-like consistency.
"His family's Nicaraguan, her family's Cuban, they're both Miami born and bred and are
currently UM grad students who are very into their cultural identities."
"Are you serious?"
"As a heart attack." I added a splash of Cointreau to the ganache—just enough to help
loosen the mixture a little more as well as to provide contrast to the dark chocolate and the hint
of coconut milk I'd added to the already added.
"God save us from idealistic grad students."
I felt him coming up behind me, his cheek grazing my hair as he leaned in and peered
over my shoulder. "You know, this is why I work in a restaurant kitchen and not catering. No
one tells me what to do or how to do it." SWEET FINISH 4
As I stopped the mixer, his arm predictably wormed its way between my waist and arm,
finger extended. Slapping his hand, I picked up a spoon. "Not true." I scooped out a healthy
blob and turned, pushing at his chest to gain enough space to reach up and give him a taste.
"You have to answer to whoever owns the restaurant."
"Good point, but I still don't have to make culturally signi…" His protest dribbled away
as the chocolate took effect and a blissful expression took over his face, the corners of his mouth
turning up and his eyes closing briefly before they opened again, a glazed, happy light in the
olive depths. God, but I loved putting that look on his face. Taking the spoon from me, he
turned it so he could feed me the little bit he'd left behind. Mmm… first the dark intensity of the
chocolate, spiked through with a bright burst of orange, tempered by the sweet, mellow coconut.
I felt the corners of my own mouth turning up and my eyes closing as he laughed, the sound
vibrating through the hand he had resting on my waist.
"You did good, m'ija."
Moment of bliss over, I mentally revisited the experience, categorizing the strength of
each individual flavor. "Enough Cointreau?"
He nodded and set the spoon aside, stooping to extract a bottle from my small
undercounter wine cooler. "Yeah. Any more and I think the alcohol would threaten to
overwhelm. If you want more orange, put in a couple of drops of oil. Maybe candied orange
Shaking my head, I reached for a pastry bag already fitted with the proper tip and began
filling it with the whipped chocolate. "Wasted for what I'm doing with this. Although maybe I'll
use some as garnish." SWEET FINISH 5
"Okay, so what are you doing, exactly?" He put a filled wine glass on the counter beside
me before taking a seat at the island. "I'm guessing, based on what you've said, the base is a tres
"You guess right, Kemo," I replied, taking a sip from my glass, idly noting what a nice
light finish the Güwerztraminer provided for the dark chocolate. I smiled at Adam as I took
another sip to which he raised his glass and nodded. He'd always been better with the wine
pairings than me but wasn't obnoxious about it, thank God. "So there's our bow to the
Nicaraguan side of the cultural experience."
"Provided you don't have a fight break out over the cake's provenance," he countered
with a wicked grin.
"Hey, the majority of my research points to it being of Nicaraguan origin—or at the very
least, equal to Mexican. That's my story and I'm stickin' to it." I shrugged as I started to fill the
piroulines with the ganache. "Then the flan for the Cuban side, natch. I'm going to put a light
whipped cream around the sides and top of the cake, but allow the flan to stand alone."
"And those?" He nodded at the tray of piroulines.
"Ringing the outside of the cake layer." I pursed my lips. "I'm trying to decide if I want
to drizzle a cajeta over the top of everything."
"Another caramel sauce? When the flan already has one?" Adam snorted. "You trying
to kill these people, Mila?"
"It's a Latin wedding. At the holidays. Excess all around. Bet you a steak dinner this
exercise in artery clogging winds up being the most reserved element of the whole thing."
"Filet or strip?" SWEET FINISH 6
"Strip—and if I win, you have to make it Kobe beef." I was serious about my meat,
thank you, especially when Adam was an artist at grilling the perfect steak. Setting the pastry
bag aside, I brought the tray of filled wafer cookies and my wine over to the island. "Then I was
thinking to finish off the presentation, perhaps a spun sugar cage?"
"No way—too prison-like, don't you think?" The expression on his face was half teasing,
half serious. "Nicaraguan, Cuban… what do you think the likelihood is for someone being
related to or at least knowing a political prisoner or two?"
"Oh crap, I hadn't even thought of that. You really think that's possible?" Visions of
sparkling freeform amber sugar sculptures disappeared in a poof of political turmoil.
"Better safe than sorry, don't you think?"
"So, we've covered the culturally significant aspects—how are you working in reflecting
the season? Sparklers stuck in the piroulines for New Year's Eve? Maybe some of your
assistants shooting pistols off at midnight?"
"Hmm…" I pretended to consider his suggestions just long enough for that familiar look
of horror to cross his face. Good to keep the boy on his toes. "Oh come on," I finally relented.
"My desserts don't need to resort to pistol shots to draw attention to them."
"The sparklers?" he asked suspiciously.
""Maybe… maybe…" Again, the horror crossed his face, his eyes opening so wide, a full
ring of white was visible around the dark green irises while I leaned against the island's marble
top, giggling helplessly.
"Okay, okay, I give—I'm sorry. I do have an idea, but at this point, I'm not sure you want
to know." SWEET FINISH 7
He shot me the Evil Eye he'd learned from my mother years ago. "Oh, try me," he
muttered before taking a healthy sip of wine, as if to brace himself.
"Aside from the fact that it's New Year's Eve, the big day happens to fall on the sixth day
of Christmas."
This was going to be good. I perched on a stool and watched the range of expressions
cross his face: confusion gave way to slow realization, followed by the subtle bobbing of his
head and the slight movement of his lips as he went through the litany of days.
"Oye, digame—how in hell are you going to incorporate six geese a'laying?"
"Not with compromising positions."
"Did I say anything?"
"Did you have to? I've known you long enough to know your brain knows every shortcut
to the gutter."
"Damn, m'ija, that's cold."
"Truth hurts, baby." I slid from the stool and went to the refrigerator retrieving a covered
tray. After placing it on the island, I crossed to one of the perimeter counters and picked up
another tray, plus the rest of the supplies I already had set out and returned to the island. While I
worked, Adam didn't say anything, just sat back and watched until I was done with the first one.
"What do you think?"
I held up the figure I'd fashioned from pieces of puff pastry, a graceful neck springing
from a full body and leading to a tiny head onto which I'd painted a dark beak and eyes with
melted chocolate. After a moment's consideration, I dipped my ultra thin paintbrush into the
edible liquid gold and very lightly brushed a few more graceful, wispy lines along the body and
each pastry wing. SWEET FINISH 8
"Mila, I hate to break it to you, mi vida, but that's a swan."
I smiled and very carefully set the perfect little bird onto the waves of whipped cream
covering the tres leches. "Swans, geese, close enough. By the time this bad boy gets rolled out,
these people will probably be so tanked they won't be able to tell grandmas from girlfriends."
He sighed. "You're counting on an awful lot of drinking going on."
"I repeat—"
"Yeah, yeah, Latin wedding, holidays, blah, blah, blah." Leaning over, he peered into the
swan's cavity. "What'd you use for the filling? It looks like—"
"Yeah, it is." Heh. This I was proud of. "I made another flan, chilled it, cut miniature
rounds, then tucked them into the cavity."
Adam's head lifted, a look of awe on his face. "That's brilliant."
Blowing on my fingernails, I buffed them across the front of my red apron, then started
working on another swan.
"It's a beautiful cake, Mila."
"Thanks." With careful, deft strokes, I painted the eyes and beak, then gently pressed the
neck into the body, securing it with another dollop of chocolate.
"Why do you do this to yourself?" His voice was soft. "You don't like weddings."
I shrugged as much as I was able while painting the wings. "I like weddings just fine,
Adam. As a pastry chef, I can't afford to not like weddings. Too much of my livelihood depends
on fulfilling someone else's dream." Attach the wings to the body and voilá another swan. After
finding just the perfect wave of whipped cream on which to perch the little beast, I started in on
another. SWEET FINISH 9
"I just don't believe in this half-assed concept of one true love and soulmates that most
people seem to associate with marriage. It's an illusion." Glancing up at the cake I admitted, "I
guess I could be accused of perpetuating the myth as well, but if I don't, someone else will and
why should they reap the financial benefits simply because I'm a cynic?"
"Just because he burned you—"
Couldn't help but smile. To this day, Adam couldn't say my ex's name out loud. Claimed
it gave him heartburn. "It has nothing to do with Daniel." Our divorce may have hurt, but it
hadn't destroyed any romantic illusions. Not really. "I loved him, thought we were compatible
for the long run, turned out we weren't, end of story."
I glanced up in time to see him shove a hand through his hair, pushing it off his face.
Another sign we were headed back to Peevish Adam. "No. Not end of story. Why won't you
believe in at least the possibility, Mila?" He asked the question, just like he did every time we
had this discussion, and like every time we had this discussion, he sounded beyond frustrated.
And every time we had this discussion, I'd put him off with some b.s. excuse or by simply not
saying anything, letting him believe it was because of Daniel. But I don't know—maybe it was
the time of year, maybe it was the wine I was drinking on an empty stomach, but it seemed like
as good a time as any to clue him into the real reason.
"Because, mi querido amigo, of you."
"Come on, Adam, look where your blind faith in the concept of soulmates has landed
He straightened so fast, the teak stool squeaked in protest. "Whaddaya mean?"